China going after 'big croc' tycoons

Reports say Mr Xiao, who vanished on Jan 27, was taken from Hong Kong by Chinese security agents.
Reports say Mr Xiao, who vanished on Jan 27, was taken from Hong Kong by Chinese security agents.

Chief of stock market watchdog vows to catch market manipulators, return them to China

HONG KONG • China will "capture" tycoons nicknamed "big crocodiles" of the stock market and take them back to the mainland, the chief of the country's stock market watchdog said.

The comments yesterday by Mr Liu Shiyu, who is chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, indirectly confirmed that the disappearance from Hong Kong of billionaire Xiao Jianhua was part of a campaign by the mainland authorities to place such men under control, said the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The 46-year-old, who ran Beijing-based investment firm Tomorrow Group, vanished after leaving the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong on the eve of Chinese New Year.

Media reports say he was taken across the border by Chinese security agents, and is "assisting investigations" into the stock market turmoil of 2015.

The Shanghai stock index tumbled nearly 40 per cent in just two months after having peaked in June that year, wiping out about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) of the value of shares and deeply humiliating Beijing.

Businessmen such as Mr Xiao, who was a Peking University student leader during pro-democracy protests in 1989 and became a well-connected wheeler-dealer, are believed to have direct and indirect control of enormous wealth.

It is unclear how Mr Xiao is being linked to the crash, but Chinese investigators have targeted several investment executives on suspicion of insider trading since the stock rout.

At an annual work meeting yesterday, Mr Liu did not provide any hint to Mr Xiao's fate.

But he said China would "stick to its plans and capture a group of capital market crocodiles (and bring them) back to the mainland", according to SCMP.

The capital market "won't allow big crocodiles to create winds and rains", and Beijing would not tolerate them "skinning or sucking the blood of retail investors", said Mr Liu.

He did not name any of the "crocodiles".

Xu Xiang, once considered China's hedge-fund guru, was jailed for 51/2 years in January after having been convicted of market manipulation.

The case of Mr Xiao has added to growing fears that China's powerful but secretive security forces have intensified their meddling in the autonomous city's affairs in recent years.

Meanwhile, another Chinese corruption suspect who had fled to the United States has given herself up and returned home, the ruling Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog said yesterday, in a further victory for China's overseas hunt for fugitive officials, according to a Reuters report.

Ms Wang Chengjian, a former shipping finance executive in Shanghai, was the 38th person on a list of 100 of China's most wanted corruption suspects whom the country had managed to get back, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement on its website.

Ms Wang gave herself up, the commission said, without giving details.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'China going after 'big croc' tycoons'. Print Edition | Subscribe